Chapter 1

"Ethan, want some more juice... or... anything else?" Helen asked while topping off his coffee. She had just set his order in front of him, two eggs over easy, two slices of buttered whole wheat toast, two sausage patties, a large orange juice, and a cup of coffee he'd already been sipping on since he first sat down.

Over the years, he had stopped at the diner enough to know her question was an open invitation. Ethan looked up to find the same hopeful, shit eating grin she always threw at him. Nothing ever changes.

Ethan was thirty years old, securely employed, single, and at the top of the local bachelorette food chain. The young waitress had been trying for years to get him to notice.

Shaking his head, he replied, "No thanks Helen, not tonight."

She knew he was only referring to food. Other than a little harmless flirting he had never been interested, at least not in her.

And normally, he would flirt a little, but tonight he was preoccupied watching a distraught young mother sitting with her two little kids in the booth in front of him.

On top of that, he was still dealing with his own feelings of disgust over the time he wasted earlier going to see what he thought was going to be a good movie. If there was one thing Ethan hated, it was wasting time.

He had picked the late show in hopes of avoiding school kids, so he could relax and enjoy the movie. But before it was half over, he concluded the pre-release clips were going to end up being the best part.

Now Ethan was sitting in the rear booth with his back to the wall and the open diner in front of him. It was his favorite seat because from there he could observe everything.

Knowing what was going on around him was important. Ethan felt the more unexpected surprises he could avoid in life, the less pain he would have to suffer.

After glancing at his watch, he thought, 'Twelve-thirty a.m., it's late, but still a perfect time for my favorite breakfast. At least I'll get a little enjoyment out of the evening, it won't be a total loss. I do need to finish up and get home though. My alarm will be going off in just a few hours. I'm running out of time for getting some serious shuteye.

Damn, tomorrow, or should I say today, is going to be a long one. My men and I are so far behind. Thank goodness George and his crew are fairly caught up. Their help for the next day or two should be enough to get us all back on track. He owes me big time anyway. It's not like we haven't saved his crew's ass several times.'

Ethan and George had been hired and trained together on the same crew. Even though George was a few years older, they'd been promoted to 'crew chief' at the same time. Over the years, their mutual respect had caused their working relationship to evolve into a close friendship.

Their standing order was simple, when time allowed, help each other. Neither had to be asked, they constantly watched out for one another, jumping in with their crew when needed.

Ethan watched as Helen shrugged while carrying the fresh pot of coffee to the booth in front of him. Where, at the moment the young mother and her two kids held his undivided attention.

The mother appeared to be about ten pounds overweight. 'Probably from a diet loaded with too much starch and carbs, ' Ethan thought. 'On a proper diet the extra weight should drop right off.'

He realized that a bad diet was usually a sign of poor education or low income... or both. Chuckling to himself, he pondered, 'And what's my excuse, buttered toast, eggs, and sausage, now that's super healthy.'

He overheard Helen ask, "What do you plan to do?"

On the verge of tears, the young mother replied, "I have no idea since my car won't start... it was the last warm place my kids had to sleep."

Helen wasn't trying to be mean, but she had to state the facts, "Look, you've been here for over three hours. You can't just sit there forever.

Carl owns the joint and he's going to be here soon to get everything set up for the morning shift. That's our busiest time of the day. He won't allow you to tie up that booth. You are going to have to leave and soon."

In a desperate voice, "But I have no money left, where can I take them? I can't just go out into the cold, they'll freeze."

Ethan could see a little girl about three glued to one side of her mother, on the other side was a little boy who appeared to be about two. As with all little boys, he had a spoon clasped in his tiny hand drawing circles in the condensation left by a glass of water.

A little nervous, Helen inquired, "I do hope you have enough to pay for your meal? Otherwise I get my ass chewed out."

The frustrated young mother snapped, "Yes... I have enough for the meal... but that is all I have," as a few tears rolled down her cheeks.

Ethan pushed his untouched plate back, he had just lost his appetite. Now he knew why he was never really attracted to Helen in spite of the fact she was a looker with a body to boot.

Picking up his cup of coffee for a last sip, he sat pondering the age old question, 'Do I or don't I? If I do, it's going to take a lot of time and energy. If I don't, my life will be a lot simpler... and safer, ' he thought.

As he stared at the front door of the diner it seemed to beckon him, 'Let it go, it's not your problem. Just a few steps and you are out of here and back in sync with your normal life.'

He stood up and dropped enough money on the table to cover the meal and tip. Stepping up beside Helen, he handed her a few bills, "This should be more than enough to cover their meal and your tip."

Everyone seemed to freeze, all eyes were on Ethan. The young mother was wondering, 'Who is this man and why is he paying my bill?'

At that moment, Ethan seemed to reach a conclusion. Reaching over the young mother, he picked up the little boy, looked at the startled mother and said, "Get the other one and let's go."

Her panic stricken face screamed in alarm, "Who the hell are you? Put my baby down."

With aggravation Ethan looked at her, "Look lady, you're just wasting time, now pick up the other one and let's get out of here."

In a screeching voice she threatened, "I'm not going anywhere with you. Put my son down or I'll call the cops."

Staring down at her, Ethan calmly replied, "No you won't. If you call the police, they'll take your kids from you. You are broke, no means of support, and nowhere to go. They'll turn your kids over to child protective services and leave you standing in the street. Now, as I said, quit wasting time, pick up the other one and let's go."

As his words slowly sunk in, the young mother started sobbing. She had never felt so helpless as her eyes appealed to Helen for help.

Helen, thinking she was about to unload her potential problem, said, "If Ethan told me to pick up my little one and let's go, I'd already be out the door. Lady, I'd trust him with my soul on judgment day."

The mother sat sobbing in near hysterics, confused, not knowing what to do. With a disgruntled sigh, Ethan shuffled the little boy over to his outside arm, reached down with his other and picked up the little girl. After hoisting her in place, he started for the door with two crying bewildered kids.

The young mother screamed and grabbed her purse as she slid out of the booth chasing after him. Grabbing at his arm, she clutched at him trying her best to stop him as he headed out the door.

She beat on his back, cussing and threatening him with every bit of verbiage she could muster. Scared to death, she had no idea what this stranger wanted or intended to do with her babies.

Ethan stopped beside a large twin cab pick-up. Turning he gave the young mother a hard look as she stood looking defeated but defiant for her kids.

She was now outside the diner and had lost her last vestige of hope for the night. There was nothing between her and sleeping under a bridge somewhere. Hopelessness was rapidly setting in while she tried her best to put on a solid front for her babies against this... this... she didn't know what.

Ethan said, "Now, I'm going to put your kids in the back seat and you can ride up front with me. It would be a lot easier on them if you pull yourself together. They're scared because you're scared. No one is going to hurt you, all I'm trying to do is help."

"I don't want your help. Please... just give me my babies and I'll forget this ever happened. We'll just go on our way," she pleaded.

"Ma'am, where are you going to go? Worse yet, where are your kids going to sleep tonight, and how are you going to feed them in the morning? Before you try to answer that, you had better stop and look at the reality of your situation.

I won't stand in the way if that's what you really want... hell, I'll even save you some time. Get in the truck, two miles down the road is an overpass. There will be at least five or six homeless people spending the night there, some of them will be sleeping it off.

When we get there, if you are more afraid of me than spending the night with your kids under those conditions, then I will stop and let you out. You will never see me again, you have my god given word on that," Ethan swore.

"If you just give me my babies, I'd prefer to stay here," she begged.

"Ok, just bear in mind that once I drive off, the police will be called. After they arrive, it will take them about fifteen minutes to decide to take your kids away, but if that is what you really want," he stated with a question?

She stood there looking like a young doe ready to bolt, but in deep thought about which direction. He saw the look of resignation as she stepped around him, using the running board to reach and open the rear door of the cab for him.

Ethan put the two little ones in the back seat and buckled them in, then opened the passenger door for their mother. Without another word she stepped up on the running board and climbed into the cab.

From inside the diner, Helen had been watching with her cell phone in hand, ready to call the cops the moment the young mother and her two helpless kids became homeless. As Ethan drove away with the young family in tow, she stepped behind the counter and dropped the phone back into her purse.

Helen had never wanted to kick herself so bad, 'Damn, I just knew the bitch would walk away or go screaming down the street. Why in the fuck was I stupid enough to tell her she could trust Ethan. I should have said, "Hell lady, he could be a rapist or child molester for all I know." The way he looked at her, I have never seen him with that look in his eyes before. Oh hell, there may have gone the best available man in the whole city. Shit!'

Ethan hadn't been in the diner long enough for the engine to cool off. The blast of hot air from the dash vents felt good. "Where's your car?"

It took a second for the frightened young mother to comprehend she was being spoken to. "What?" she asked.

"Where did you leave your car?" Ethan repeated.

"About two blocks down the street at a convenience store." As they drew near the store, she pointed it out to him. "I stopped to get the kids a soft drink. The damn thing wouldn't restart."

Turning the truck into the store's parking lot, Ethan pulled up beside her car. "Give me the key," he ordered.

Worried and concerned, she asked, "What for? I told you it won't start."

"You're wasting time with foolish questions. Do you want clean clothes tomorrow? Now give me the key," he demanded.

Ethan quickly transferred all their belongings to the back of his truck. After securing them so they wouldn't blow out, he made sure the car doors were locked.

He dropped her car key in his pocket, climbed into the truck, and pulled back out onto the highway. "Name?" he asked.

A quivering voice belied her attempt at appearing composed as she stated, "You don't fool around wasting time with a lot of words. Do you?"

In a firm voice that spoke volumes, "Lady, let's come to an early understanding. I don't believe in wasting time. I believe in saying what needs to be said, doing what needs to be done, and utilizing all available time to accomplish both. It's a real simple question. Name?"

Not knowing what to do or how to respond, she blurted out, "Christie."

Ethan pointedly replied, "Ok, Chris it is."

Irritated she quipped, "No, it's Christie, I don't like being called Chris."

"No offense Chris, but saying Christie is a waste of time. You already know how I feel about that. Until you start paying the bills, this is not a democracy. It will be Chris as long as I'm providing the helping hand."

When they came to the overpass, a group of homeless were huddled around what looked like a fire in an open barrel. The glow from the flames flickering out of the top created an almost eerie effect.

Just to drive his point home, Ethan slowed down so Christie could get a good look at the surreal sight. A cold shudder swept through her as she stared at the poor souls. Christie knew full well Ethan and his pick-up truck were the only things keeping her and her babies from becoming part of the group huddled around that barrel.

While looking out the passenger window, she informed him, "Chris will do just fine." At that moment, she hated him with her very soul. Her real fear? What would he demand next?

The kids had passed out before they even reached the overpass. Evidently it was way past their bedtime. "Your husband?" Ethan broke the silence again.

Her frustration showing, she sarcastically tried to gig him back in her own small off handed way. "Do you mean who is he, where is he, or what is he?"

Ethan smiled to himself. He admired her character, defiant until the bitter end. "Yep, that's what I mean," he replied.

"Well since you're making up the rules, could I please pass on answering that until later?" Chris pleaded.

Half snorting to show his disgust, "Suit yourself," he replied.

It wasn't a long drive, but the only sound they shared for the next few miles was the steady hum created by Ethan's oversized tires as they rolled along, over an asphalt highway. In the otherwise quiet solitude of the pick-up cab, each of them was momentarily lost, deep in their own thoughts.

Suddenly Ethan signaled a right hand turn.

Chris's heartbeat increased dramatically when the truck started slowing down. She had thought she was prepared for anything, but was scared to death as the truck turned onto a winding side road.

Although it was dark, she noticed there didn't seem to be many houses on the road. They wound their way around to what appeared to be a small housing addition.

As Ethan pulled the pick-up into the private drive of one of the homes,

almost shaking with fear, Chris asked, "Where are we?"

"Well since I'm making the rules, would it be alright if I pass on answering that until later... ? But let me ask you, does it really matter? Either you are at a safe place... or you are in deep shit. So move your butt and help me get these little ones inside and into a warm bed for the night. Then you'll have plenty of time to worry about yourself," he chided.

He couldn't help but grin, but she didn't notice. Her attention was focused on the house.

'Ohhh... he is a real asshole, ' she thought to herself, 'but damn it, he's right.' Sliding out the door, she stood on the running board and unbuckled her daughter.

For some strange reason, she felt a little better if he didn't touch her daughter. It dawned on her how stupid that was; he could be a gay pedophile. All of a sudden she wanted to hold both of her babies, but Ethan was already headed to the house with her son lying on his shoulder fast asleep.

Helplessly she hoisted up her daughter and gave rapid pursuit catching up to him as he unlocked and opened the front door. Just like the cab of the pick-up, the house was warm, comfortable, and she noticed, immaculate. Well, if nothing else, he was clean.

As Ethan kept going right on through the living room towards a hallway, Chris screeched, "Where are you going with my son?"

Ethan stopped, turned, and gave her a beleaguered look. "Chris, if I wanted to hurt you or your children there would be little you could do. So try to use a little common sense woman and go along with the program.

I would have to be stupid to try anything, there were witnesses at the diner. If something happened to you, I would be the first one they would come looking for. Now please try to relax and let's get your babies taken care of, then I'll answer any questions you care to ask."

Walking into one of the three bedrooms, Ethan asked, "Do you want your own bedroom or do you want to sleep in here with your kids?"

Almost before he finished speaking, she blurted out, "I'll sleep in here with my babies if you don't mind?" It was a rhetorical question.

"I expected that... and to be honest, I would do the same," he responded.

'Damn, don't go and get human on me, ' she thought.

Ethan dismantled a twin bed from the third bedroom and put it together in the kid's room for Chris. Getting out some sheets, he started to make up the beds; Chris jumped in and demanded to do it.

While Chris was making the beds, Ethan slipped out of the room and returned with a drill and lock set. Chris looked up, "What's that?"

"It's a slide bolt. I'm going to install it so you can double lock the door. That way, you'll feel safer and be able to get a good night's sleep."

As Ethan turned the chuck to open the drill, she placed her hand on his. "That won't be necessary. I think my common sense is starting to kick in."

"Ok then... ," Ethan said as he gathered up the tools, "I'll unload your stuff and bring in it in."

After he had everything unloaded and carried in, Chris smiled at him and sincerely said, "By the way, thank you."

"No problem, would you like a cup of coffee, soft drink, beer, anything?" he asked.

"Actually I'm exhausted. If you don't mind, I'd like to go to bed now, maybe in the morning?" she replied.

"Sorry, not in the morning. I have to be out early, got a lot to do tomorrow. I'll be gone before you and the little ones get up. After work I'll take you and the kids out to get a bite to eat." He informed her.

"What am I supposed to do while you are gone?" She couldn't help but ponder how weird the situation seemed.

"I understand, but until you get your feet on the ground and your life stabilized, then just bear with me. Make yourself at home, there is plenty of food, milk, soft drinks, and beer in the fridge. Take care of your kids, that's the most important thing right now. I'll see you if you're still here when I get home tomorrow." Ethan stated.

"What do you mean if I'm still here?" she asked.

"Chris, you look like you already have one foot out the door and the other in the air. I understand that you are scared and concerned, hell I would be too.

Just bear in mind, these two little ones are going to get cold and hungry on a regular basis. Wherever you go and whatever you decide, they will pay the price for any mistakes you make.

Now, I've got to get some sleep. Hopefully I'll see you tomorrow. By the way, the bathroom is straight across the hall." With that said, Ethan shut the door behind him and headed off to bed.

Chris was left standing there dumbfounded. 'What's with this guy?' she wondered. 'One minute he seems to be attacking everything and everybody in sight, threatening and demanding to be Mr. Macho, then all of a sudden, he's totally understanding and human.

Could he be one of those psycho cases?' Chris nervously giggled at her own joke as she thought, 'A psycho doesn't live like this and go to this much trouble to help a stranger with two kids.

No, he's different, but he's real. Ok, so he's not an asshole, but he is a big jerk. I might not hate him, but I don't think I like him.'

Staring at the closed door for a moment, Chris walked over and turned the lock. After all, she wouldn't want to be considered stupid.

Ethan was jolted awake in the middle of the night. Did he hear a kid screaming? He lay there listening, all he could hear was muffled voices and a child whimpering. Evidently one of the kids was having a nightmare and Chris was consoling them.

He glanced at the alarm clock, it read four a.m... Ethan rolled over and went back to sleep.

The next afternoon, when Ethan pulled into the driveway it appeared Chris and the kids were still there. Either that or she forgot to turn off the kitchen light when they left.

As he walked in the door, a delicious aroma immediately piqued his curiosity. He smiled when the little ones went running to the kitchen screaming, "Mommy, mommy that man is back."

Chris appeared in the kitchen doorway with a dish towel in her hands and the two little ones hanging on to her legs. "Wash up, dinner will be ready in about fifteen minutes," she said.

Ethan looked at her and nodded as he headed for his bedroom to clean up and change clothes.

The little ones let go of their mommy but didn't leave the kitchen, just in case that man came back again. When Ethan entered the kitchen, they scurried over to take hold of mommy's pant legs, following her every step as she set food on the table.

Ethan went to the cabinet and got out four plates and glasses. After setting them on the table, he laid out a set of silverware for each of them.

Taking his seat at the head of the table, he sat back smiling in wonder as he watched the unspoken power a mother exerts over her children, and they over her.

Not a word was said as Chris finished setting the food on the table. When she picked up his glass, she asked, "What would you like to drink?"

"Any diet soft drink will do... over ice, please," Ethan added.

As they sat down to eat, Chris questioned, "Do you say grace?"

"Nope... You?" he returned the question.

"Never have, but always thought it would be nice," she stated.

Ethan grinned, "Pass me the potatoes please... let's see if you can cook."

"Oh I can cook, I might not be good at much else, but cleaning a house and cooking a meal are two things I can do," she smiled.

"Evidently you didn't hear me last night when I said I would take us out to dinner?" Ethan implied as he took a bite of potatoes.

"Oh yes I did, but you are already doing more than you should. Plus eating out is not all that healthy, so I decided to cook," Chris stated.

"Well I'm glad you did, there's no place I know of that serves food like this. It's absolutely delicious. Please pass me another helping of the potatoes," Ethan requested as he scarfed up what was left on his plate.

"Don't you ever get anything to eat?" she smiled at him. "You act like you're starving."

"For food like this, I am. Our employer's mess kitchen serves darn good food, but it doesn't hold a candle to this. You're really good," he said.

Chris beamed with delight over the double compliment. The verbal was ok and nice to hear, but as every woman knows, the real test is in how a man eats. Ethan was eating proof of what he had professed.

"By the way, that's where I was going to take you and the kids to eat, over to the mess hall," he informed her.

A little curious, Chris asked, "What do you mean by mess kitchen and mess hall?"

"Simple," he said. "My employer furnishes us a place to live and three meals a day. The mess kitchen or hall as we call it is open to all the employees and their families," he replied trying to enlighten her.

"A place to live... this isn't your house?" she asked.

Ethan chuckled, "Only as long as I'm employed here and am able to maintain my position. This section of housing is reserved for crew chiefs and team managers."

"Team managers... what's a team manager?" she inquired.

"Crews are what we call all the maintenance and grounds keepers, all the cooks, servants, stable hands, chauffeurs, butlers, and other personal staff are called teams." As he finished, Ethan took another bite of food.

"What kind of business do you work for that has crews and teams? I've never heard of a company providing room and board for their employees. It must be nice," she said with an astonished look.

Ethan smiled, "It's not a company, it's an estate called 'Wetap.' The owner is not only very rich, but very nice too. He does have very strict rules about living here though. What we do away from here is our own business, as long as it doesn't reflect badly on Wetap. What we do on the estate is the business of everyone that lives here."

Chris sat reflecting on what Ethan had just said and he could see her tensing up. "Well if that's the case, I guess the kids and I need to think about moving on. We wouldn't want to get you in trouble," she said without smiling.

Ethan grinned, "I've already taken care of it. I had a talk with Richard today, he's the owner. After I filled him in on the circumstances and assured him there was nothing going on between us, he told me to use my own judgment and to tell you, 'Welcome to Wetap.' He's really a fantastic gentleman. If you hang around long enough, you'll get to meet him."

Chris visibly relaxed and smiled, "He sounds like a great person, but I still can't believe he furnishes all this for you. I can't wait to meet him. Out of curiosity, where did he get the name Wetap? What does it mean?"

"I honestly don't know. Everyone has asked him. He just smiles and says, 'My true love gave it to me and she didn't even know it.' That's all we've ever been able to get out of him," he replied.

They lapsed back into silence while finishing their meal. Chris noticed her daughter doing a little eye flirting of her own with Ethan.

Not to be left out, her son started making faces at him. Ethan couldn't help but laugh and almost choked on his food, Chris and the kids burst out laughing at him.

Chris ushered Ethan out of the kitchen when they finished eating. The kids had already left, headed for the living room to find something to play with. They located it as soon as Ethan plopped down in his favorite recliner.

The rug rats started circling, didn't take five minutes and they had weaseled themselves a spot on each side of him as he held one in each arm. They pulled on his ears, pinched his nose, flipped his lower lip, and pulled his eyelids open as they laughed and giggled at him. Especially when he oinked, honked, and squealed at each of their antics.

Chris stood in the doorway with a big smile, laughing to herself while drying a plate she was holding. Where has the big jerk gone?

This guy morphed faster than she could keep up with. Now he was just a big soft teddy bear... maybe they could be friends after all.

All through rinsing and loading the dishes, Chris could hear the kids laughing and having a ball. 'It's sad, ' she thought, 'I don't remember them ever having that much fun with their own dad. Hell, I don't remember him ever spending that much time with them.' She found herself getting antsy to finish up and join them.

It was fun. They all laughed and played until the kids' bedtime. Chris was astounded the kids didn't put up a single fuss when told it was bedtime. They were worn out. She did notice neither would go to bed until they had hugged and kissed Ethan good night.

After the kids were down for the night, Chris asked Ethan, "Cup of coffee?"

"Sure," he said. "Do you play gin?"

Chris couldn't resist, "Do you mean Cotton, martini, or cards?"

Ethan laughed, "Yep, that's what I mean."

"I'll have you know that I play gin almost as good as I cook," Chris informed him.

Trying his best to look serious, "We'll see..."

Three hours later, Ethan had proven he was not only good at gin, but at listening too. During the gin games Chris filled him in on her basic life story.

She had been raised by her mother after her father was killed in a flying accident when Chris was a teenager. Her mother never remarried and had just passed away a year ago from an aneurism.

Chris had no brothers or sisters, and her only relatives were distant ones who supposedly lived on the other side of the country. She had no names or addresses, but they were so far removed, not only by distance but by blood also, they couldn't be considered family anyway.

She and Greg, the kids' father, had started dating their senior year of high school. Thinking they were madly in love, Chris had let her guard down and ended up pregnant. He, of course, did the right thing; they got married.

After their high school graduation, Greg got a decent job working in a warehouse. They never had much, but Chris was ok with that, she never was a demanding person. As long as they had clothes on their backs, food on the table, and could get medical attention when needed, she was satisfied.

The problems started after their son was born. A few months later Greg was laid off from his job. He had put back a little money and between unemployment and their savings they got by.

When the unemployment ran out so did Greg. He just left one morning supposedly to search for a job, but never returned, no calls, nothing.

Either he couldn't face not being able to provide for them, or figured there would be one less mouth to feed. At least that's what Chris tried to convince herself. Whatever reason, she and the kids hadn't seen or heard from him since that day several months ago.

When her resources ran out, Chris was evicted from her apartment. She loaded their clothes in the car, filled the tank with gas, tossed in the kids, and headed out. No particular direction, just hoping and praying fate would guide her to something better.

Ethan sat shaking his head, "Chris, life works better when you have a sensible game plan that you follow."

"I know, but my screw up was depending on Greg to have a plan for us. Too late, I realized he was flying by the seat of his pants all the way. We were just living day to day believing life would take care of us," she confessed.

Ethan ended up winning five games to Chris's three, she was pretty sure he let her win the last one. It had been a very relaxing and fun filled evening for both of them.

Chris asked, "You left so early this morning, what time do you usually get up?"

"My alarm is set for six. I usually leave by six-thirty so I can swing by the mess hall and grab a bite to eat," he said.

"Well if you don't mind, I'm wore out and ready for bed. I hope to see you tomorrow when you get home," she grinned.

"Ok, I'll bite. You hope to see me? Why would you think you wouldn't?" he asked.

With a big grin, Chris replied, "The last man in our lives took off one day and never came back."

Ethan lost his smile, "Rest assured Chris, you will probably leave after you're back on your feet and prepared to make a better life for yourself. But until that day, I will be here for you and those babies."

With tears in her eyes, she declared, "I believe you and I'm truly sorry, it was a really bad attempt at a joke. Oh, before I go to bed, do you have an extra alarm clock?"

Ethan went to his bedroom and when he returned, he handed her an electric alarm clock. She said, "Thank you and good night."

After closing the bedroom door behind her, she turned and looked at the lock. Then she set her alarm and went to bed.

Ethan looked at the alarm clock, it read four a.m. again. He had heard the screams this time. Tiptoeing down the hall he listened at the door. Chris was soothing one of the kids back to sleep, it had been another nightmare.

Ethan was stunned that kids would not only have nightmares, but seemingly on a regular basis. Tiptoeing back to bed, he went back to sleep.

When Ethan's alarm went off the next morning, he was surprised by a strange noise coming from the direction of the living room. Quietly slipping down the hall, he was shocked to see a light on in the kitchen. Wondering if one of the kids was sick, he peaked in to find Chris in her house coat preparing to cook.

She spotted him and said, "Good morning sleepyhead, better hustle, your breakfast will be ready in about ten minutes."

Never a man for wasting time, he made a beeline to the bathroom for a quick shower, he didn't want to miss this breakfast for the world.

When he entered the kitchen, the table was set. "Take your seat, breakfast is ready," Chris said.

Ethan took his seat at the head of the table as Chris set his breakfast in front of him, two eggs over easy, two slices of buttered whole wheat toast, two sausage patties, and a cup of coffee. He looked up questioningly as she said, "I know, and a large orange juice."

"How did you know my favorite breakfast?" he was amazed.

"I've worked as a waitress before. I heard you place your order at the diner. A good waitress never forgets what her best customers order, it's hard to get good tips if you do," she informed him.

"And I know you didn't get to finish your meal, so consider this my apology. I hope it makes up for the one you missed," she added.

He sat there grinning and shaking his head as he thought, 'She's something else.'

She sat there smiling and thinking, 'He's kinda cute when he's eating. Damn it, stop that right now, as though I don't have enough problems already.'

When the phone rang about lunch time, Chris was startled. She wasn't sure if she should answer it. Tentatively she reached down and picked up the receiver. "Hello," she said.

She easily recognized Ethan's voice on the other end, "Chris?"

"Yes," she replied.

"Just wanted to let you know not to cook dinner tonight, I have to go somewhere and pick up some equipment after work. Want you and the kids to go with me. If it's not too much trouble, we'll eat at the mess hall tonight." He informed her.

Chris chuckled, 'So much for him making all the rules, just two days and he's asking for my permission. Oh, he is so big and tough. Good thing I'm nice, otherwise in two more days, I would have him on his knees and begging.'

"No problem, we'll be ready," she said.

"What is this place?" Chris asked as they pulled up in front of a mechanic shop.

"Wait here," Ethan directed as he bailed out and went inside.

Chris sat watching and playing with the kids while she tried to figure out what he was doing.

Returning to the truck, he walked around to her side and opened her door. "Get your butt out, this is far as you go," he said.

Puzzled she unbuckled her seat belt and climbed down in time to see her car coming around the corner. "Ethan!" she screamed, "You shouldn't have."

Smiling, he joked, "I may have had it fixed, but I'm not driving the damned thing home. You can follow me." He left her standing there and went around and climbed into the truck, backed out and waited on her to pull up behind him.

While sitting at a table in the mess hall eating their dinner, Chris looked up at Ethan and just started crying.

Bewildered, Ethan asked, "Chris are you alright? Is something wrong? Did I say or do something?"

Chris just sat there shaking her head no.

"What then?" a confused Ethan begged to know.

"Oh you're a man, you would never understand. Just forget it, but nothing is wrong," Chris replied. As the kids went around and hugged her, she started bawling.

With a frown, Ethan decided it best to just continue eating and not ask.

After they finished, they went home for another evening of fun and light hearted games. The kids just wouldn't leave Ethan alone. In just two days, he had become their personal play center.

Just like the night before, the kids went out as soon as their little heads hit the pillows. Chris found herself enthusiastically looking forward to some time alone with Ethan. She thought, 'It's amazing how he could become so important to the kids... and me, in such a very short time.'

Chris nodded towards the kitchen, Ethan followed her. After getting them both a cup of coffee, Chris asked, "Why did you do it? It's not your responsibility to even provide for us, let alone fix my car."

Ethan pulled out his wallet and fished out several one hundred dollar bills and laid them in front of Chris. She immediately turned beat red and said, "I can't take or accept those."

"Yes you can and you will. It's not just for you, it's for the kids too," he informed her.

"Ethan, I have nothing to offer in exchange for that much money. If you have anything in mind, I'm sorry, you have misjudged me altogether," she declared.

Now it was Ethan's turn to turn red, but with anger. "Have I asked you for anything, have I even suggested anything? On top of that, I told you the rules here at Wetap. It could cost me my job to do something that stupid. I fixed your car and am giving you the money for only one reason, I won't have you living here feeling like a prisoner. If for any reason you decide it's time or you need to leave, you now have a vehicle and the means to do it."

Chris started crying again, "God I'm such an idiot. Can you ever forgive me?"

Ethan sat there a moment before saying, "I don't know Chris, I just don't know... but a game of gin might help."

Laughing, Chris slapped his arm as she got up and walked away from the table. She returned shortly with a deck of cards, score pad, and a pencil. "You have to shuffle first since I went and got everything."

By the second game, they were both laughing and having fun. Ethan asked, "What about Greg's family? After he deserted you and the kids, they wouldn't help?"

Chris did a sarcastic chuckle, "Yea, they helped... helped ruin my reputation after we informed them I was pregnant. They virtually disowned Greg for marrying me and having what they called his bastards. No, there is nothing there but cold hard feelings on both sides."

Ethan just sat shaking his head, "I'm truly sorry, think you will ever be able to forgive the rest of us?"

Chris sat there a moment before saying, "I don't know Ethan, I just don't know... but another game of gin might help."

They both laughed.

When Chris went to bed that night, she didn't even think of the lock as she shut the door.

Ethan woke up. The alarm clock read four A.M., but this time there were no screams. He had just popped awake on his own.

The silence made him smile. He prayed the babies would never have another bad dream. Rolling over, he went back to sleep.

Chris beat him out of bed again, he hustled to get a shower. He didn't understand, but he was compelled to spend every minute he could with her.

He enjoyed her laughter, her smiles, her conversation, not to mention her cooking. The crying he could do without.

His crew that day wanted to know, "What's the deal? That's two mornings in a row you've failed to show at the mess hall for breakfast."

"Don't worry," he told them, "I'm not missing any breakfasts." They gave him funny looks, but went on with their work.

When he got home, Chris had fixed a big pot roast. 'Damn that woman can cook, ' he thought after forking down his first bite.

Laughing, Chris jokingly informed, "Well sir, you are about to eat us out of house and home. If we don't restock soon, it will be back to the mess hall for you."

A red faced Ethan just nodded his understanding.

Chris was rinsing off a plate when she heard a strange word coming from the living room between fits of laughter. Stepping closer to the doorway, she cocked an ear, listening to what was being said.

Her heart stopped, she had to be mistaken, she listened closely again.

'Oh God, ' she thought as she darted into the living room. They all immediately froze, staring at the shocked expression on her face.

Chris looked at Ethan and he quizzically asked, "What?" The little ones clamored up onto his lap, leaning back against his chest as the three of them sat staring at her.

At a loss for words, she just stood there. Finally her daughter tugged on Ethan's shirt and inquired, "Daddy, is mommy ok."

Chris snapped out of it and immediately said, "Ethan, I'm so sorry. I'll talk to them, they won't be calling you that anymore."

"No you won't and yes they will... do you have a problem with that?" he asked.

Standing with her mouth hanging open, Chris tried to reply, "Yes... no... maybe... I... hell I don't know... I guess if you don't, I don't." With a bewildered expression, she turned and went back into the kitchen, shaking her head all the way.

The kids looked up at Ethan and he looked at them, then they burst out laughing. In the kitchen Chris stood at the sink preparing to rinse out a glass when she heard the laughter, she smiled as tears ran down her cheeks.

After the kids were down for the night, Chris headed for the coffee pot and filled two cups while Ethan took a seat at the table with cards, score pad, and pen in hand. They looked at each other and laughed.

It was an unusual night of cards, they played, they relaxed, and they seemed happy although neither had much to say. Oddly, every time their eyes met, they both broke out in a big smile, sometimes even laughing.

Chris was getting better, it was four games to four and she was fairly sure Ethan hadn't let her win a single one.

As they were playing the last game, Ethan said, "Tomorrow is Saturday. I'm off all day. How about we take the kids and go shopping. Do they have any dress clothes for church?"

"Church, do you go to church?" Chris seemed surprised.

"Now I do," he responded without looking up from his cards.

She didn't say a word, she knew he was doing it for the kids. Her only thought was, 'Damn him. Why couldn't I have met him before Greg?'

After shutting everything down for the night, Ethan followed Chris down the hall. She stopped, turned, grabbed his shirt, pulled him down, and kissed him on the cheek as she whispered, "Good night... daddy." As Ethan stood in shock, she giggled and stepped into the kid's bedroom, shutting the door behind her.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Heterosexual /